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Were there any female priests in the temple in Jerusalem at any time?

  • Related: Did the Herodian Temple have virgins? – Lee Woofenden Jan 31 '16 at 17:16
  • There have been temples in Jerusalem for more than 4,000 years, serving MANY different religions, including those with goddesses and priestesses. What time period and religion are you asking about? – Schuh Feb 1 '16 at 10:34
  • @Schuh In a room asking questions about christianity,most would understand that we are talking about the only Tempel one could give an offer to the God of Jakov. – Aigle Feb 1 '16 at 12:45
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    I'm trying to understand your question. Are you asking about what the Bible defines as proper Jewish worship (c.530 BCE to 70 CE)? Or are you asking about actual history and all the many ways various peoples worshiped Elohim (if that's who you mean)? I'm just looking for clarity on your question. – Schuh Feb 1 '16 at 17:48
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The answer is a definite "no."

According to the Torah, only males descended from Aharon (i.e., בְּנֵי אַהֲרֹן) were permitted to be priests (כֹּהֲנִים).

In Exo. 40:13-15, it is written,

13 And you shall clothe Aharon with the holy garments, and anoint him, and sanctify him, so that he may be a priest for Me. 14 And you shall bring his sons and clothe them with coats. 15 And you shall anoint them, just as you anointed their father, so that they may be a priest for Me, and their anointing shall certainly be for an everlasting priesthood in their generations.

יג וְהִלְבַּשְׁתָּ֙ אֶֽת־אַהֲרֹ֔ן אֵ֖ת בִּגְדֵ֣י הַקֹּ֑דֶשׁ וּמָשַׁחְתָּ֥ אֹתֹ֛ו וְקִדַּשְׁתָּ֥ אֹתֹ֖ו וְכִהֵ֥ן לִֽי׃ יד וְאֶת־בָּנָ֖יו תַּקְרִ֑יב וְהִלְבַּשְׁתָּ֥ אֹתָ֖ם כֻּתֳּנֹֽת׃ טו וּמָשַׁחְתָּ֣ אֹתָ֗ם כַּאֲשֶׁ֤ר מָשַׁ֨חְתָּ֙ אֶת־אֲבִיהֶ֔ם וְכִהֲנ֖וּ לִ֑י וְ֠הָיְתָה לִהְיֹ֨ת לָהֶ֧ם מָשְׁחָתָ֛ם לִכְהֻנַּ֥ת עֹולָ֖ם לְדֹרֹתָֽם׃ WLC

  • "in their generations" ?Just wondering – Aigle Jan 31 '16 at 23:28
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    Wrong. For hundreds of years the temple cult in Jerusalem was not ruled by this law, and there are many stories in the Deuteronomic history about female cult personnel in the temple, i.e. priestesses of Asherah. Judaism later forbid this, but there's no denying the actual history. The worship of female deities thrived in Israel and Judah from the 10th to 6th centuries, and these religions had female personnel. – Schuh Feb 1 '16 at 10:19
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    @Schuh: Please post an answer to the question. – user900 Feb 1 '16 at 13:43
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    @Eagel: Feel free to unmark mine as best answer. I do believe Schuh's answer deserves it. :) – user900 Feb 6 '16 at 6:08
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    @BCLC: That was my initial assumption, too. – user900 Feb 7 '16 at 6:47
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Were there female priests in the temple in Jerusalem at any time? Definitely, Yes!

Certainly the ‘priestly code’ of early Judaism assigned the duties associated with the korbanot (‘sacrifical offerings’) only to the kohanim (‘priests’) who were specifically sons of Aaron (Ex.40:13-15). The priestly function also included other temple responsibilities, including singing and instrumental music, giving blessings, and (during a later period) prayer and reading the Torah. Although Jewish women were not allowed to be priests, evidence suggests women were involved in some of these ancillary functions – especially prophesy, music and dancing – and also provided leadership in synagogues of the Diaspora.

But Judiasm was not the only religion practiced in Jerusalem's temples. Solomon’s temple stood for centuries during a period of intense religious conflict and development. In fact, biblical history is full of stories about the Israelite and Judahite people practicing Canaanite religions in the temple in Jerusalem. Among these was the religion of Asherah, the most popular goddess of the ancient Middle East.

Archaeological evidence suggests goddess folk religions flourished in Israel and Judah – beside, and at times in conjunction with, the religion of Yahweh – from the 10th to the 6th centuries BCE. Asherah’s ‘holy ones’ (qadesh and qĕdeshah) are often described as male and female priests. According to the Bible, an Asherah symbol stood in Solomon’s temple for about half of its roughly 400 years. Asherah’s ‘holy ones’ lived inside the temple: while their houses were razed during periodic ‘reforms’, the Bible also suggests the priests offered sacrifices, burned incense, and engaged in cultic prostitution inside the temple precinct (2Ki.23). Attempts to eradicate the worship of Asherah and her offspring (according to Canaanite mythology) were made by Gideon, Asa, Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah and Josiah (Ex.34:13-14; Dt.7:5; Jg.6:25-30; 1Ki.15:13; 2Ki.18:4, 21:7, 23:4,7; 2Ch.15:16, 19:3, 33:3,19, 34:3,7).

The reforms of Judah’s King Josiah, though undone by kings after him, were described as being especially thorough, particularly his cleansing of the temples in Jerusalem and Bethel of their Asherah priests and cult paraphernalia:

“Then the king commanded Hilkiah the high priest and the priests of the second order and the doorkeepers, to bring out of the temple of the Lord all the vessels that were made for Baal, for Asherah, and for all the host of heaven; and he burned them outside Jerusalem in the fields of the Kidron, and carried their ashes to Bethel. He did away with the idolatrous priests whom the kings of Judah had appointed to burn incense in the high places in the cities of Judah and in the surrounding area of Jerusalem, also those who burned incense to Baal, to the sun and to the moon and to the constellations and to all the host of heaven. He brought out the Asherah from the house of the Lord outside Jerusalem to the brook Kidron, and burned it at the brook Kidron, and ground it to dust, and threw its dust on the graves of the common people. He also broke down the houses of the male [‘holy ones’] which were in the house of the Lord, where the women were weaving hangings for the Asherah... All the priests of the high places who were there he slaughtered on the altars and burned human bones on them.” (2 Kings 23:4-7, 20)

The broad consensus of scholars is that the Deuteronomistic history telling the story of the eventual victory of Yahwistic monotheism over polytheism in Israel/Judah was probably composed in Jerusalem during this time, the late 7th century BCE. The Torah and its levitical proscriptions defining the priestly function and proper Yahwistic worship was written over the next centuries. Both drew on earlier traditions, and together these formed the basis of a new monotheistic religion, Judaism, which was instituted in Jerusalem on the return from Babylonian exile (c.530 BCE).

While Asherah’s cult continued in diminishing form in the surrounding provinces, there is no evidence of it in Judea proper after the 6th century.

The long and bitter rivalry between the cults of Yahweh and Asherah may actually have influenced the limits placed on women in Judaism. Woman were allowed into the Second Temple past the soreg – the stone wall separating the public area from the inner sanctuary where only Jews could enter – but they were restricted to the large Court of Women reserved for women and ritually unclean men. Only ‘clean’ men were allowed up the steps to the Court of the Israelites from which they could observe the sacrifices being offered by the priests. After the establishment of Judaism in Jerusalem, the temple priests were always male, unlike the centuries of religious rivalry before.

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    You speak of Jerusalem's temples. OP says 'temple' (singular). So OP's question is wrong or what? – BCLC Feb 7 '16 at 5:23
  • @BCLC, the OP's question is vague, but I've assumed he's only interested in Solomon's Temple (destroyed c.587 BCE) and the Second Temple that replaced it (c.520 BCE - 70 CE, aka Herodian). There were other temples on that site before and after, and YHWH was also worshiped elsewhere, but these are the two Jerusalem temples I assume the OP intended. – Schuh Feb 7 '16 at 5:48
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I really don't think so. Although I am not an expert, I took a class about the New Testament last summer (it was academic and spiritual) and in the class my professor taught that there was an outer court called the "court of women", then there was the "inner court" where women weren't allowed, and then there was the temple inside the inner court.

Mind you, only the priests were allowed in the temple.

If there were female priests in the temple, how could they get to the temple when they aren't allowed in the courtyard where the temple is?

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    Welcome to Christianity.SE. For a quick overview of what this site is about, please take the Site Tour. In particular, this site prefers well-documented answers. See: What makes a good supported answer? If you would do the work to provide references to the Bible and related Biblical scholarship to support your answer, it would work much better here. Meanwhile, I do hope you'll stick around and browse some of the other questions and answers. – Lee Woofenden Jan 31 '16 at 17:15

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